What Movie Contains the Best Acting?

Actors make our dreams come alive. And the best examples sometimes are overlooked. 

My favorite part of the development process is casting. You get to make a long list of names that would be fun to see in your movie. When you create a list, it's important to make it diverse, marketable, and long. Have tiered choices and lots of outside the box ideas. 

But that's a post for another day. 

Today I want to focus on the idea of acting. 

It's hard to pull out the best-acted movies. When I was asked to come up with some examples, my mind fluttered all over the place. You see, the best acting is usually unrecognizable because the actors and actresses disappear into their roles. 

Obviously, great writing helps, but I don't think we appreciate actors enough for what they do. So, let's use this time and the comments section to talk about some of the best and talk about who we aspire to write for in the future. 

What Movie Contains the Best Acting?

I was watching Doubt on HBO when I came up with this article idea. that movie is so powerful. Every scene rocks you to the core. And all of that is because everyone is bringing their A-game. Meryl Streep disappears into the role of an authoritarian nun. Amy Adams is incredible as a naive nun making her way in the world, and Viola Davis carries so much in so few scenes it's a performance that should go down in history.

Those are strong accolades and I haven't even gotten to Philip Seymour Hoffman yet. 

He's great in everything, including his role as the nurse in Magnolia. This is another movie where everyone is pushing the story, from Tom Cruise to Juliane Moore. Every scene bristles with importance and melodrama. It's such a delicate story to pull off and yet we never question any of the moments. 

Paul Thomas Anderson is the perfect director for that, after all, Boogie Nights remains some of the best work by an ensemble cast in the history of motion pictures. 

And while we're at it, let's talk about historical performances. 

You can't talk about actors disappearing into roles without mentioning Marlon Brando. 

On The Waterfront contains one of the best, if not THE BEST, scene of acting ever. The "I could have been a contender" scene is enough to put anyone down in history. But Brando brings it in The Godfather as well, which maybe has the best ensemble of all time. 

Staying back in time, you have to look at 12 Angry Men and Citizen Kane as films where everyone matters and every performance contributes to the overall enjoyment of the story. 

If Meryl Streep is our greatest living actress, I think the greatest living actor is Denzel Washington. One of my favorite performances comes with him across from Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide

That movie has them both atop their game. Daring each other to be better. 

One of my favorite moments in acting is when two actors or actresses trying to challenge the person across from them to keep up. 

Like what about Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water

Or Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Viola Davis and Denzel in Fences

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzJCPw5KiFE

But what about movies that don't get enough love for their reserved acting, like Five Easy Pieces and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody

These are not noisy performances, they are nuanced and should be celebrated for their resistance to going so big it takes you out of the movie. 

Nicholson was the master of that in his early career. I mean, even without its moral baggage, Chinatown shows people working their hardest to make a story that counts. 

Faye Dunaway doesn't get enough credit for demanding that her character have motivation and depth. And then resisting Polanski's authoritarian directing style to portray one of the most damaged characters to ever walk this earth.  

Generational trauma is tough to put on the screen. But what movie does it better than Boyz n the Hood? It's raw, angry, and unfiltered. We see the problems of institutional racism and the frustration that boils below the surface. 

But it's not all about trauma. Sometimes it's about coming of age and love. 

Movies like Moonlight and Brooklyn transport us into lives that may not reflect our own. They have characters who are specific and desperate to be understood. 

They make us feel universal love. 

These are some of my favorite examples from a wide array of genres and time periods. But I'd love to know yours. 

Put some ideas in the comments and let's also wax about how you pick these stories out. 

Who are some of your favorite up and coming actors and actresses? 

Let us know!      

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Your Comment


Peter O Toole in Lawrence of Arabia is a favorite of mine. Also Orson Welles in the Bells that Chime at Midnight. I guess I like big, impressive figures and the old theatrical playingstyle.

June 13, 2020 at 6:33AM

Auke-Jan Weening

Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons (1966) is my personal favorite for a single performance.
For ensemble performance, as unusual as the choice may be, I have to go with Almost Famous (2000). Every actor is a perfect fit for their character in that movie, and their interactions all fit together like a puzzle with no irregular pieces.

June 13, 2020 at 10:32AM, Edited June 13, 10:32AM

Matthew Stephens

The Lion in Winter and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are two favorites.

June 18, 2020 at 12:13PM, Edited June 18, 12:13PM

Scott Ressler
Director of Photography

Christoph Waltz in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds - you don't need to speak English or French to feel the gravity of what's happening.

June 22, 2020 at 2:02AM, Edited June 22, 2:02AM


Glad you chose prime of miss jean brodie. The full movie can now be seen on youtube. Special for me as I played the role of Teddy Lloyd the Art Master on stage several years ago here in Durban.
Link to the movie:

July 17, 2020 at 1:25AM, Edited July 17, 1:25AM

rod prynne
photographer, filmmaker

The Talented Mr Ripley is full of excellent performances.

July 17, 2020 at 1:26AM, Edited July 17, 1:26AM

rod prynne
photographer, filmmaker